Culture at Work: Self-Entreprenuerialism and Earnings Inequality


Several theorists claim that a culture that considers employees as entrepreneurs has been internalized as well as institutionalized. But is there a culture, a shared subjectivity, among workers that is self-entrepreneurial? How does this culture ‘work’ – does an entrepreneurial subjectivity correspond with objective outcomes in employment? I contribute a quantitative response to these questions using survey data, from the mid-1990s through mid-2010s, representative of working-age Americans. I identify a latent self-concept that reflects individuals’ sense of their own self-mastery, self-directedness, capacity for self-growth, and foresight of their future. Across social groups, Americans report high levels of this self-entrepreneurialism. It is associated with an average earnings premium of between five and ten per cent of average earnings within occupations. Self-entrepreneurialism, however, does very little to account for earnings inequality between occupations, or between women, and has no association with earnings changes within individuals. Prevailing economic theory mistakes as micro the level at which the self operates, and economic inequality is determined. Yet the idea of the self-entrepreneurial employee does have a practical, if partial, truth to it. This could be a source of its cultural power.

Last updated on 12/16/2020